Unlike the bookmakers, Jerome Bettis wasn’t quite ready to write off the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’ve had these odds before and we’ve done it before — Ben’s done it before,” Bettis says in an exclusive interview with NEXTpittsburgh.

The Steelers ultimately fell to the Chiefs 42-21 this weekend, which likely marks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last game in a Steelers uniform. Bettis expects Ben to join him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame sooner than later. 

Now, though, Bettis is focused on something different — graduating from college.

Bettis is finishing his final semester of business classes for an undergraduate degree at Notre Dame — a degree he put on pause 20 years ago to join the NFL.

“It’s been a while in the works,” Bettis says. “I finally decided there’s no time like the present … I knew I had to physically be on campus, but I wanted the degree from Notre Dame.

“It’s been tough,” he adds, with a laugh. “Last couple of classes, my head is spinning a bit.”

Jerome Bettis. Photo courtesy of Denny Civic Solutions.

Bettis is also committing time to a cause special to him and his career in the NFL: joining the board of directors of the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research. The foundation, which commits itself to diminishing the impact of sports-related brain injuries, announced the appointment Tuesday morning first to NEXTpittsburgh.

Founded in 2016, the Chuck Noll Foundation awards grants to advance research related to the diagnosis and treatment of injuries to the brain. The foundation has awarded early-stage research grants totaling $1.7 million, leveraging an additional $10 million in further support, the organization says.

“The Chuck Noll Foundation’s mission to diminish the impact of head injuries goes beyond professional sports — and has the potential to impact every kid who is injured playing in the front yard, and every person who falls or gets in a car accident,” Bettis says. “I want to learn more about it. It’s concerning to me. And I want to be on the front lines.”

Arthur J. Rooney, chairman of the Chuck Noll Foundation’s board, says he is honored to have The Bus on board.

“In 2022, the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research will continue to provide grants to support cutting-edge research that helps to diagnose and treat injuries to the brain,” Rooney says in a prepared statement. “I am pleased that many of the research projects funded by the Noll Foundation have now been validated by the fact that they are attracting research grants and have been published in peer-reviewed medical publications.”

The Chuck Noll Foundation has made 14 grants — with all of them going to Pittsburgh-area groups such as Allegheny Health Network, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and West Virginia University.

The late Chuck Noll, for whom the foundation is named, was the beloved head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 through 1991, earning four Super Bowl titles during his tenure. His career culminated with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.